Jul 09

Chinese police adopt new form of self-defense

Written by Buxi on Wednesday, July 9th, 2008 at 6:59 am
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The other headline story in China over the last week has been the murder of 6 police officers in Shanghai. Yang Jia, an unemployed man originally from Beijing, attacked a public security office building, stabbing to death 6 officers.

All of this happened just as the Weng’an riot story itself became white hot, and the Chinese internet response was predictably extreme (and in my opinion, disgusting). After seeing local injustices, some Chinese netizens basically celebrated the attacks on the police. Yang was often described as one of the Robin Hood-type heroes forced to rebel in Outlaws of the Marsh (水浒传). Many simply assumed Yang acted for a reason, that previous police abuse was the reason for his anger; a rumor was spread that Yang had been beaten so badly his sex organs were injured.

The Shanghai public security ministry has been placed on the defensive, forced to explain whether Yang Jia was “justified” in his attack. Yesterday, Shanghai issued a 6-hour recording from an encounter last October, apparently the seed of Yang Jia’s anger (连接). Part of the transcript is translated below:

After a series of horn blasts, a middle aged man with a Shanghai accent (police officer) begins a dialog with a young man with a Beijing accent (Yang Jia).

Officer: Hey pal, please stop your bicycle for an examination!

Yang Jia: There are so many people on the road, why are you picking on me?

Officer: We will handle this one at a time. Please come off of your bicycle and accept police investigation, and show your bicycle license.

Yang Jia: I’m renting this bicycle.

Officer: Please hand over proof of rental to me. You’re holding it so far from me, how can I see it?

Yang Jia: If you can’t see, how are you supposed to enforce the law?

Officer: Please move your bicycle to the side!

Yang Jia: Why are you enforcing the law by investigating me?

Officer: Can you voluntarily tell me your name?

Yang Jia: What’s your excuse for wasting my time?

Officer: Let’s all respect each other a little!

Yang Jia: Don’t talk to me about respect. Respect what?

Officer: We’re proceeding with the law, please cooperate with our investigation!

Yang Jia: Which clause is allowing you to restrict my personal freedom?

Officer: Can you voluntarily tell me where you are from?

Yang Jia: I won’t.

Officer: Can you voluntarily tell me your name?

Yang Jia: You don’t have any excuse for wasting my time. What’s your excuse for wasting my time? Is this based on law? Bring out the law, you have it memorized! This is how you restrict my personal freedoms, what’s your excuse?

Officer: This is called mutual respect.

Yang Jia: Don’t talk about that. Mutual respect? What the hell is mutual respect? What’s there to respect?

Officer: We’re proceeding under the law…

Yang Jia: Law? What law? You have the balls to talk to me about the law, what law gives you the reason to grab my documents like this without reason? How can you restrict my personal freedom?

Officer: Don’t scream at me. If you have something to say, you can say it. If you believe I have done something wrong, you can …

Yang Jia: Of course you are wrong, look here, 1342 (officer badge number), explain this to me. Why are you in front of so many people checking my documents and restricting my freedom? Why aren’t you holding back the others, but only me? You don’t have any reason..

I wouldn’t recommend anyone repeat the above conversation with an American police officer; the consequences would be ugly. This kind of confrontation isn’t uncommon in China; many people couldn’t care less about authority, which is why I can’t help but laugh when China is described by some as a “police state”.

I am not going to make any guesses about exactly what happened in Yang Jia’s case; we do know that he didn’t steal the bike he was riding, it was a rental, as verified by the police department. But we still don’t have many details about exactly what happened in the police department after he was detained, or in subsequent months. Although the Shanghai police promised a 6 hour recording was only available, we only have the above very short transcript. We will have to wait for the media to get to the bottom of the story (and yes, I enjoy being able to say that with some confidence it will happen).

Regardless, I strongly doubt anything could be direct justification for this man’s actions. But the reactions from other Chinese netizens show the difficult challenge facing China today. As Willy Lam says in the Asia Sentinel, there are “Cracks in China’s Armor”. (Google News shows the title of that article as ‘Chinks in China’s Armor’… probably a good thing they revised the title.) The lack of credibility for government institutions after two decades of hiding discontent is a real problem in modern China.

But what I think is most remarkable here is that this transcript and recording exists at all. The Shanghai government is obviously aware that in order to defend their credibility, government institutions must be more transparent, and must make themselves available for “supervision”. Facing a public relations battle, this transparent credibility is their best form of self-defense: apparently, the Shanghai police department has been recording everything their officers do for the past five years. Here’s an explanation from a post on MITBBS (原贴):

All Shanghai duty police officers (traffic police, patrol police, emergency responders to 110) have, since 2003, been recording all audio while on duty (from the moment they come on shift until the moment they come off). All recordings are preserved for at least 30 days. Every unit with a service counter, as well as every unit with a conference room, on-duty room, and inquiry rooms are under 24 hour video surveillance. Normally, the leadership and “functional” divisions (ed: something similar to Internal Affairs in the US) are constantly randomly checking these recordings. When a complaint or lawsuit is filed, prosecutors and regulators can immediately access these recordings. Otherwise, those coming in contact with the police can inform the relevant official within the first 30 days that these recordings must be preserved. The justice system and attorneys can then request the recordings.

All conference rooms, service counters, inquiry rooms, shift rooms are under remotely controlled video monitoring (controlled by the main city public security bureau). Everything is automatically recorded and transmitted 24 hours a day. The units where these cameras are installed can request a playback, but have no other way of controlling the system (i.e. shutting down cameras or erasing footage). The portable recording units carried by officers can not be privately turned off; doing so will cause a new document to be created. Anyone with more than two recordings in a single shift must provide a written explanation to the local command center. If multiple recordings were created because of operator error or drained batteries, and the command center was not immediately notified, the officer receives a yellow warning; if an officer can’t explain the reason for multiple recordings, they receive an orange warning. If there’s an indication that the officer intentionally turned off the device to escape monitoring, they will absolutely receive a red warning.

These warnings are handled this way: an officer with more than two orange warnings per year, or a single red warning, their annual review will show they could meet only basic standards (or failure to meet basic standards). Every warning comes with a 400 – 1200 RMB fine. For officers with an annual review that only meets “basic standards”, you will receive an additional 15000-20000 RMB fine. For officers that fail to meet basic standards, your salary will be cut heavy, and you have the risk of being fired.

Most Chinese netizens on Tianya were also surprised that this exists in China. Others have reported that at least Shenzhen have similar requirements, although perhaps not quite as harsh and comprehensive.

The implications of these recordings are becoming obvious. The Shanghai public security bureau will probably have to release recordings involving Yang Jia in full (at least in court, if not in public)… and there will be an objective record of whatever confrontation that happened in their offices. And combining this with new rules on release of information, it should mean the Chinese public should be able to request information like this in just about any case.

And it’s perhaps because of Shanghai’s proactive regulation that the debate hasn’t been purely one-sided. Many Shanghai residents on Tianya joined together to insist that police officers in Shanghai aren’t corrupt or abusive as they often are in other cities, and they deeply mourned the dead officers. (Incidentally, Yang Jia’s Myspace page is available here; a sensitive guy with a photo album full of flowers and nature. For now, we can only wonder what led him to his actions.)

This sort of open transparency and supervision is exactly what China needs, and it’s the best defense for a Chinese police force facing assault from all directions.

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66 Responses to “Chinese police adopt new form of self-defense”

  1. Nimrod Says:

    This kind of confrontation isn’t uncommon in China; many people couldn’t care less about authority, which is why I can’t help but laugh when China is described by some as a “police state”.

    So true. People in China bicker all the time with police — or so-called “reasoning with” police — to get away with stuff. That totally wouldn’t fly in North America. People aren’t used to the notion of going to court to sort out such things, because appearing in court “means” you’re guilty and must prove you’re not guilty…

    Police state? Nah… Chinese pupils learn that police are “uncles” and you turn over pennies found on the street to them.

    Of course in China there is a distinction between police and armed police. Most police aren’t even armed.

  2. tommydickfingers Says:

    I always thought that ‘police state’ meant that the state ran the country like a police force rather than the police literally ran the country.

    regardless, seeing the amount of disrespect for police in china is always amusing. I have come across numerous sketches where the police were put firmly in their place by the common folk.

    of course the police don’t fo themselves any favours, sitting around in the back of vans smoking cigarettes with their trousers rolled up or pulling over taxi drivers for no apparent reason while ignoring the blacked out audis tearing up bicycle lanes. hardly going to earn the nations respect like that and everyone knows it.

  3. K Says:

    I always thought it was nice how the police in China (or Shanghai at least) would give a quick salute to the regular citizens they talked to. As a foreigner I even got a salute! I’m pretty sure I once saw a guy trying to bribe a cop to get out of a traffic charge, but the officer just waved at him to put his money away.

    I think it’s great they are trying to be more transparent. It is absolutely imperative that the government at all levels (but especially provincial, municipal and local levels) works towards improving public confidence if they are to have any chance at stemming the power of rumours and stopping incidents like Weng’an. Of course they also need to make sure that abuses of power don’t happen in the first place, but a more open process will hopefully mean that when the inevitable problems do occur there will be some faith in obtaining justice through means other than rioting in the streets.

  4. willp Says:

    Here in Canada we are taught to respect our police starting from cildhood. Perhaps in China it should be added to the curriculum is schools.

  5. Wahaha Says:

    The following is the talk by former chief of police in Weng’an


  6. Chops Says:

    Re: #1 “Of course in China there is a distinction between police and armed police. Most police aren’t even armed.”

    It’s understandable that because of the “low” crime rate, most Chinese police are’nt armed.
    There was a time when British police was also unarmed, but those days are over because criminals are getting more violent.

    Still, don’t Chinese policemen at least carry batons?

    American police carry a side-handle baton that resembles the Okinawan martial arts tonfa.

  7. MutantJedi Says:

    In Canada, if you don’t provide a peace officer with your name and birthdate when asked, you could find yourself in serious trouble.

    One contrast I noticed immediately between police in Canada and China are the weapons. Canadian cops are generally geared up for lethal conflict – sidearm and bulletproof vest. I didn’t see that in Beijing for the cop on the street. It made me wonder even more about how the legal system worked in China. Personally, cops with guns don’t make me feel secure. Guns don’t make me feel secure. Looking to our neighbors to the south, the NRA scares me.

    Romanticizing Yang Jia is reckless as it is disgusting. He isn’t a hero or a leader. He is just a sick man. China doesn’t need more Yang Jia’s. Also China doesn’t need its cops on the streets to carry guns. With, as Nimrod wrote, “appearing in court ‘means’ you’re guilty and must prove you’re not guilty”, arming police with deadly force would quickly escalate an arms race between cops and criminals.

    As with Weng’an, how transparent the system is will determine how much trust can be built between the state and the citizen. Regardless what happened to Yang Jia in custody, the more frank the disclosure the better.

    I know the police have been blamed for a lot of stuff in China but I have also watched, on youtube, confrontations between land developers and displaced tenants that could have gone a lot worse without the police being there.

  8. Nimrod Says:

    tommydickfingers wrote:

    I always thought that ‘police state’ meant that the state ran the country like a police force rather than the police literally ran the country.

    Well the former is what it should mean (and not really true either, “nanny state” is more like it). But have you ever watched the usual documentary or news clip on China and noticed how without fail they will (1) find every single policeman, (2) telephoto zoom onto them one by one? The ominous visual implication is clearly “police state”. Nice trick, huh?

  9. LACJ Says:

    While in general Shanghai police are pretty good, I know from experience that at least some Zha Bei Qu cops are corrupt. Complaints will be ignored if the other party has any kind of connections, and there is probably indifference in many cases (which, I suspect, is what led to the Weng An incident, assuming the original story line was in fact false). Unfortunately other districts are not much better in this regard.

    Of course it is possible that Yang Jia simply was unstable, but wasn’t he arrested? If so, where are the recordings of his time in detention?

    On the bright side, the fact that he was found not guilty is an indication that the judicial system is improving.

    But its hard to see why he would take such extreme measures if he was not treated pretty poorly.

    Its unfortunate that this incident reflects poorly on Shanghai, and I am happy to know more about the oversight that is in place, but if the cops beat this guy up then this incident hopefully will have the effect of increasing supervision.

  10. yo Says:

    I agree, transparency is good considering in most of these cases, there isn’t any good reason not to be transparent.

    I would disagree, I want my cops to have guns. I feel safer that way. Don’t get me wrong, I understand where you are coming from about the NRA. I think there should be gun control, but I want the cops to have guns.

    Cops take a lot of crap. There are the ones who are a-holes, but I generally have a positive view about our police. If this incident happened in the U.S., Yang would be a dead man walking. IMO, the cops in China should be issued fire arms.

    UK cops have guns? I heard they didn’t. Do you guys have gun control (like Canada)?

  11. Buxi Says:

    Of course it is possible that Yang Jia simply was unstable, but wasn’t he arrested? If so, where are the recordings of his time in detention?

    On the bright side, the fact that he was found not guilty is an indication that the judicial system is improving.

    But its hard to see why he would take such extreme measures if he was not treated pretty poorly.

    You’re definitely asking the right questions. Yang Jia was detained for something like 6 hours, and he was then released, after the bike’s status was confirmed with the rental company.

    There have been a lot of rumors swirling since, just like in Weng’an. Some said that he was a long-time bike thief (and bike thieves are hated in China… if you look online, you’ll find videos of bike thieves being caught and beaten by average citizens)… but I think that’s unlikely.

    What we do know is that *something* happened in detention. What happened exactly? Unclear, but he officially complained and appealed repeatedly. Shanghai police went on two trips to Beijing, to reportedly meet with Yang and his mother to negotiate and discuss. There are rumors that they were discussing compensation, somewhere in the range of 15000-30000 RMB.

    Very believable that there was a confrontation, fists/kicks and maybe even more were exchanged in the police department. And that’s why these recordings are so important, as you said… it’ll give us the truth here. It’ll either defend the police’s reputation and paint Yang as an outrageous outlaw, or it will lead to punishment for the cops involved.

  12. Buxi Says:

    I don’t believe police in China even carry batons (on normal duty). They aren’t expected to use force that way.

    I think part of the problem here, is that “rule by morality” has deep roots in China. 2000 years of tension between rule by law and rule by man, and we still haven’t found the answer. There’s always a sense that if someone is *really* outraged about something, the police doesn’t have the “right” to restrain them.

    In the United States (and Canada), I think we all know that if you throw something or attack a police officer… no matter *how* justifiably angry you are, you will be immediately handcuffed, you will be spending a few hours (possibly more) in prison, and face serious legal consequences. There’s a red line there, and you simply don’t cross it.

    That red line really doesn’t exist in China. The police officers face a lot of social pressure to go easy on people who have been morally “wronged”.

  13. yo Says:

    “Nice trick, huh?”
    And you forgot the ominous music. I also like the photo of a a guard in a green uniform(PAP uniform?) at Tienanmen looking really stern in front of Mao’s picture, but in actuality, he’s some village kid with no gun, standing on some high wooden block, acting like a human video camera.

  14. yo Says:


    “In the United States (and Canada), I think we all know that if you throw something or attack a police officer… no matter *how* justifiably angry you are, you will be immediately handcuffed, you will be spending a few hours (possibly more) in prison, and face serious legal consequences. There’s a red line there, and you simply don’t cross it.”

    That’s interesting. But two wrongs don’t make a right and if you are acting up in public, I see no reason why the cops can’t throw the guy in jail. If this practice(of going easy) exists in China, then I can’t imagine how difficult it is for the cops to make these morally subjective decisions. I would favor reform to create that “red line”.

  15. Chops Says:

    @yo, I’m from South-East Asia, not from UK. You’re right, ordinary British police don’t carry guns.

    “In the United Kingdom, the majority of police officers do not carry firearms, except in special circumstances. This originates from the formation of the Metropolitan Police Service in the 19th century, when police were not armed, partly to counter public fears and objections concerning armed enforcers as this had been previously seen before due to the British Army maintaing order when needed. The arming of police in the United Kingdom is a perennial topic of debate.

    Most officers are instead issued with other items for personal defence, such as Speedcuffs, Extendable “ASP” Baton, and incapacitant sprays such as PAVA or CS spray. While not a “normal” firearm, CS spray is subject to the same rules and regulations as a projectile fireing firearm under Section 5 (b) of the Firearms Act 1968.[1].

    The Ministry of Defence Police, Civil Nuclear Constabulary and Police Service of Northern Ireland (formerly the Royal Ulster Constabulary) are issued firearms as a matter of routine.”


  16. MutantJedi Says:


    I think that certain members of the police force should have guns. What would a SWAT team be without guns, eh? 🙂 Riot police also need special weapons – hopefully non-lethal. It’s sort of like having the right hammer for the right job. Giving the cop on the street a gun is too much force, in my opinion.

    Of course, in North America, we’ve opened that pandoras box a long time ago. Now, the cop is out gunned. But I wouldn’t feel secure being in the middle of a little arms race. For the most part, it isn’t the cop that I’d be worried about, it’s the bad guy with the firepower to match or exceed the cop. To be sure, my corner of Canada isn’t that bad.

    Fists and clubs are a bit more forgiving that a bullet. In an instant, irreversible harm (death) can be done with a gun. You can’t “undo” a cop’s mistake if it is made with a gun. And you are aware that the training now is to empty the clip? My kids could be in the wrong place at the wrong time and before the cop has figured it out his clip is empty.

    One of my criticisms of things like the death penalty or 3 strikes rule is that you put a person, who isn’t in the habit of making the right sort of choices in the first place, into a desperate situation. One more strike and it’s big time – how readily do you think that he will want to give up? From the comments above, there seems to be some sort of “safety valve” to the prospect of being before a Chinese court, which seems to make an assumption of guilt. The citizen can argue on the street with the cop. Get mad. Frankly, I don’t really know how it works – it is alien to my experience here in Canada, hence of keen interest to me. Maybe the cop will shrug and let you go(?) Add guns to this? You’ll have wild west gunfights in the streets.

    Just my opinion.

  17. oldson Says:

    From one side, from personal experience I know that most cops in China don’t care about enforcing the law, but when they have to they will do a good job. From my personal experience most cops avoid the public and only enforce the law when there are visiting big shots or they have to reach their quota. I had some good friends who were cops and they all pointed to the fact that its actually difficult for them because technically the CCP has strict rules for police but since most cops are lazy or corrupt they won’t enforce the law and focus on becoming a part of the group, or ‘guanxi gang’ if you will.

    I am sure that the Shanghai police officers were just going about their daily business but people don’t realize how rough the streets in China can sometimes be and the unemployed man simply reacted in a natural way (rude, arrogant and distrustful). Even if it wasn’t a cop and was just an ordinary person who interrupted this unemployed man he would still react in a noisy and violent manner. A lot of people in China are quite defensive and proud – I remember one time I accidentally bumped into a guy and they immediately screamed obscenities and tried to pick a fight with me. Chinese people describe this as “zhuang” – the guy is full of himself and deals with issues by arguing and acting like a jerk.

    In Shanghai I would trust the police a lot more than my home city in NE China. One time one of my British friends was arrested. This is how it happened: he was wandering down an alley looking for an acupuncture shop and suddenly someone grabbed him from behind. It was a plain clothes police man but my friend of course didn’t know it and the cop didn’t say who he was. He only shouted and pulled him so my British friend, who couldn’t understand Chinese, pushed back. Then a big fat plain clothes cop got out of a nearby van, rushed over and started pulling him and ripped up his shirt. My friend kept shouting that he was British and couldn’t speak Chinese, but they only cursed him and carried him into the van. They took him down to the station where they finally figured out that he wasn’t a Xinjiang thief that someone had reported seeing in the alley.

    Moral of the story: some cops are total idiots (they thought a pale balding white guy was a dark skinned Muslim trouble maker).

    In this Shanghai situation I think that the cops might have acted like jerks but nothing to warrant stabbing people to death. In China normal people don’t have guns (unless you have the guanxi to get them). I think that police should have guns but it has to be strongly controlled. In America if a cop shoots someone, regardless of what happens, there will be an investigation and the cop will take a leave of absence. In China they are very strict with cops using their guns but at least there should be armed SWAT teams on call. In China there are a lot of gangs so the cops are afraid to mess with them. I have seen plain clothes police get attacked (qun ao) by swarms of beggar children and get the crap beaten out of them.

    @ MutantJedi

    Fists and clubs are fogiving but when you have 10 people armed with knives and clubs you will get killed. A lot of people actually get knifed. I even knew a few Americans who were knifed by gangs.

  18. Opersai Says:

    Yes, I would agree that Chinese society at large is still unfamiliar and strange to the court and rule of law. At the beginning of the modern China, after the Qing collapse, the lawyers mostly were viewed as evil henchmen of the rich. Of course, the lawyers usually were hired by the rich and defend them help the reputation. However, it was also the unfamiliarity of rule of law that made the lawyers seemed cruel, sly and evil. For example, when a rich landlord chases his poor tenant out because the tenant couldn’t afford the rent anymore, even though the tenant might be homeless and suffer miserably. While, not to say the action of the landlord is just or anything, but by the rule of the law, the landlord have right to kick out tenant that couldn’t pay. Though, in the eyes of many Chinese, this would not be acceptable as it’s considered inhumane, not benevolent.

    However, I’m not sure of an absolute strictly reinforced rule of law is good either. Stories often appear, of cases where the rule of law applied doesn’t fit appropriately with the situation. A careful balance before humane flexibility and credibility of the rule of law need to find. And we are still searching.

  19. EugeneZ Says:

    One time I got stopped by a traffic cop in Shanghai and had my car taken away because I was not carrying my driver’s license that day. It was a hassle to get the car back and I had to pay a fine. This was nothing outrageous about my experience, because it was all written in traffic law. What is interesting was that almost all of my friends in Shanghai thought I was dumb that I did not just sped it away by ingoring the traffic cop who was on foot. Apparently you can do it in China. I never had to try it.

    I did have success in Hangzhou, a city 2 hours south of Shanghai in negotiating with traffic cop to have my fine cut in half – my friend who was with me that day argued with the cop that I should have been let go because I was a “patriotic Hua Qiao”. I did not think that was any legitimate argument, but the funny thing was that the cop did think about it and decided to give a 50% discount.

  20. Charles Liu Says:

    Many of us in the West don’t know about how China’s criminal justice system work.

    I’ll tackle the biggest mis-conception first (since this is fools mountain) – Lao Gai. It is actually based on “custodial detention”, a well-established western legal notion. US relied on it during WWII to justifiy detention of Japanese-Americans, and many American youths/first timer today can elect for bootcamp (a type of reform-thru-labor) instead of jail. Today europeans still have it on their book, and magistrates/prosecutors can hold suspects and witness months at a time. And I don’t think I need to mention Guantanamo Bay.

    And besides of Chinese police not even carrying a baton, some western bloggers/journalists can’t even tell the difference between GongAn and BaoAn. China simply don’t have enough police, and a lot of the time when you drive thru and get a salute, that’s acutally a security guard.

    Most municipalities also have deputized citizens that look like police, but are less trained part-timer that more or less fill in for trafic duties that aren’t equiped to deal with anything else.

  21. Netizen Says:

    Some lessons from this case.

    First, the police acted professionally. Only thing lacking is when Yang asked what law, the police didn’t say under xxx Law, Article yyy. Like in the movie. Maybe it was not the procedure manual. Then the manual should be corrected.

    Second, Yang should be condemned as a murderer. No prior reasons can excuse his action. Any sympathy toward him betrays proper morality.

    Third, blogsphere can be mob. Those bloggers without knowing the facts questioned the Shanghai police or spread rumers should be shamed of themselves.

  22. yo Says:

    thanks for the info. Sorry, I assumed you were from the U.K.

    @mutant jedi
    Fair enough, but I personally don’t think there would be an arms race if the criminals don’t have a chance to buy the guns in the first place, as in the case of China where it is tightly regulated. The America case is a bit dicey because we got loop holes in our gun laws and criminals can get some serious firepower if they wanted to.

  23. Pirate Says:

    I recently tried to bribe a cop for a speeding ticket in Shanghai and I was absolutely amazed he didnt take it…. shocking where this country is going

  24. MutantJedi Says:


    From the Canadian experience in gun control… my feeling is that if the bad guy wants a gun, he’s going to find a way to get it. And it won’t be registered. 🙂

    Pirate, I don’t think I’d even have the balls to try to bribe a cop. To much Canadian conditioning I think lol 🙂

  25. B.Smith Says:

    @Mutant Jedi:
    I have to disagree with your thoughts on officers carrying guns. I was a cop in central Dallas, Texas for a year. Believe me, we needed guns. I had my gun out and pointed at least 5 or 6 times, even though it was something I absolutely hated doing. There were just too many criminals out there armed to the teeth. When we had to take control of a situation, or protect innocent people, we needed all the tools we could get. Even in a country with less gun crime, officers still need sidearms. We once confronted a crazed, knife-wielding robber at 3 a.m. in a dark ghetto. There were lots of scared neighbors around, and a gun (or Taser) was the only thing that was able to stop him (luckily the an officer with a Taser was present, or else we would’ve had to shoot the guy to protect everyone else). Imagine Yang was running toward you and your friends with his big knife out – would you want the officer present to have a gun, or only a baton?

    Also, you said “And you are aware that the training now is to empty the clip?” I don’t know how Canada is, but my training was definitely not like that. We had a ton of shooting practice, but we were always taught to look at the surrounding area before we shot, and then to shoot center mass, as long as it took for the guy to drop his weapon or go down – but not one shot more. And a gun was always our last, last resort, after holds, OC spray, strikes, batons, and tasers. Still, it was a very important last resort.

    I wish just as much as you that guns weren’t necessary. Unfortunately, they are – not only for the officer’s sake, but for everyone else as well. I would never be a cop if I wasn’t allowed at least a small backup gun.

  26. nanheyangrouchuan Says:

    Chinese street cops don’t carry guns because the CCP is terrified of unregulated guns and has every reason to be.

    Why is China a police state? Because this young man was randomly pulled over for no reason and was standing up for what he believed to be his rights. Because I can wear a “fuck Bush” shirt in DC but not “ten things not to say to a foreigner” in China.

    Only if you are driving a car in the US do you have to have ID and present it. And the police in the US do have to know what laws they are citing and not just say “the law says I can do this”. Do cops get away with stuff in the US? Yes, the cities or states also get sued for alot of money and the officer(s) names are published in the media, pretty much blacklisting them in society.

    And guns? Guns guarantee that the federal and state governments in the US would be severely bloodied by tens of millions of people fighting for their rights should any real pressure be put on their freedoms.

  27. BMY Says:

    I grew up in a small town and then lived and worked in a mid size city in China. I’d never seen police carry guns even never seen police patrol the streets ecept traffic cops. I think part of the reasons it was because the “low crime rate” or just different type of crime in the streets if I compare where I live now. there were always street thefts and street fightings and they just tried to run away when unarmed police were approaching in the place I am from. It’s just not necessary for police carry guns all the time. Of course the police were fully armed when they went to arrest someone known could be armed.

    In the place where I live now, there are armed robberies of banks,post offices,service stations,shops or people walk in the street almost daily. few years ago, there was a lady got gun down because someone wanted her 50 bucks on her way home. There was a boy also got gun down and 50 bucks taken away. I heard gun shots few time at night came from the next suburb. There are always armed money van get ambushed every few weeks. There was a house spread with hundreds of bullets. So the police here must be armed to teeth to protect themselves and others.

    But, if the shanghai police got armed in the building then this guy would have been shot few times and few lives would have been saved


    “Because this young man was randomly pulled over for no reason and was standing up for what he believed to be his rights” is not a very convinced argument to proof “Why is China a police state?”

    The police officer had the right to pull over anyone to check their bike registration. The random check was just like a random breath test on the road in the US. I haven’t hear anyone been pull over for a breath test and ask the police “why me , not others”. That’s how the random test works,man.

    You are right , the office should have said “according to article #….

    This young man got outraged unnecessarily by pull over.

  28. MutantJedi Says:


    As I mentioned, the pandoras box on police carrying guns was opened long ago in North America. Even in my neck of the woods, stories of RCMP officers leaving their gun in the car while handling some dispute are just stories about “the good old days.” The concept of the world out there being a war zone – war on this and war on that – is a self-fulfilling and self-perpetuating mindset. The images on the small screen and big screen are reinforced by the image of the officer, on routine patrol, wearing a vest and belt loaded with the tools of the trade. The image departs from that of a peace officer.

    This is unfortunate because the fairest and most reasonable experiences with law enforcement I personally have had has been with the cop on the street. I’m not anti-police but I am very wary of guns, even if the Swiss seem to do okay by them.

    As for China, my point is, why start the cycle? If your police are doing their job without carrying lethal force, why start?

    So, what to do about the Yang Jia’s? Give the officers guns? (Actually, I think Chinese police stations have guns in lockup…) So then the next Yang Jia won’t come in with a knife but a gun. Instead of a knife fight you have a gun fight. Or perhaps he won’t take out his rage on officers but in a mall or in a school yard.

    But, you are right, it isn’t easy. Certainly I’d rather face a Yang Jia while I was wearing a vest and holding a gun. But would I if that meant tomorrow the bad guys will match my gun with their own gun?

    Something, though, needs to be done. Exactly what, I don’t know. Training might be a good start. How is it that the officers inside the station weren’t alerted to a guy setting off eight gasoline bombs?

    I apologize though “empty the clip” is dramatic language.

  29. Buxi Says:

    @MutantJedi / B.Smith,

    You guys might be interested in a movie called “The Missing Gun” (寻枪). It’s probably 6-7 years old now, but very appropriate for what you’re talking about. It’s set in a sleepy small town in (I believe) Guizhou, where a police officer wakes up after a drunken wedding party to find that his gun, and six bullets, are missing.

    The reaction of his police chief gives you kind of an idea of how serious bullets/guns are treated:

    – If this gun makes it to Beijing, that means 6 people could be dead! And if each bullet kills 2 people, that’s 12 dead!

    This doesn’t mean guns are never used in China. If you haven’t seen this video yet… this is of a Guiyang SWAT officer taking care of business the old fashioned way, a few weeks ago:

    I really want to talk about how important I think this type of supervision on the police is. Pirate talks about not being able to bribe the traffic cop… well, the guy was probably being recorded! I hope this sort of professionalism, this sort of public supervision is spread throughout China.

  30. MutantJedi Says:

    I really want to talk about how important I think this type of supervision on the police is. Pirate talks about not being able to bribe the traffic cop… well, the guy was probably being recorded! I hope this sort of professionalism, this sort of public supervision is spread throughout China.

    I agree Buxi. It also would protect the police officers from accusations of brutality or other misconduct.

  31. Phil Says:

    Brilliant policy – and hurrah for the technology that enables it. In general I’m suspicious of more government spying on the world, but the police are the sharp end of government power, and it’s always good to keep that in check. With the constables obeying the law because they have to, professionalism and accountability might even spread upwards to the very top of the slippery police pole.
    And the great thing is, we don’t even have to wonder about why the government/Party decided to do this. They may be paranoid control freaks who want to rule everything, but having made the recordings, it’s virtually certain that they will leak, and public scrutiny will be brought to bear. Sometimes I feel very optimistic about the future, and this is one of those times.

  32. ProudChinese Says:

    Police who patrol high risk facilities and troubling regions do carry firearms, others simply use baton, either way they can initiate lethal action, but thats only for those who start a stabbing spree, and in that case, its perfectly fine (and should be required by law) to lay them down by all means necessary, whether in US or China.

  33. WillF Says:

    As a law student, I’m particularly concerned with the idea that in China, going to court signals a tacit admission of guilt. This is just a small part of what I see as one of China’s most severe problems: a lack of an independent judiciary. While some of the mistrust of courts is perhaps cultural, the fact that the courts are controlled by and answer ultimately to the local Party officials must harm public confidence in the courts even more. I believe the Party even has a special supervising committees that have the power to overturn decisions, though I admit I have no idea how often this power is exercised. Still, I would think a system like this would make combating corruption via the justice system extremely difficult. On the other hand, if the Party relinquished control of the judiciary, it would lose power over who among its ranks would be prosecuted and punished, with potentially inconvenient consequences for the Party as a whole. The courts could be a very powerful antidote to corruption, but unfortunately the Party is allergic to the secret ingredient.

    Sorry to get so off-topic. Just had a thought and ran with it…

  34. ProudChinese Says:

    As for the Shanghai incident, I’ve been observing public opinions lately, most tend to believe that the guy was indeed abused during detention, which implies widespread distrust and opposition toward the authority. I too believe in this way, but thats not to say the guy’s reaction was appropriate, taking life over anger is never right.

    Like many other cases, this one (and Wengan riot) further stresses the urgency of establishing effective channel to dissolve social discontent and implementing the system of rule of law. I for one support a open and fair trial for this poor guy.

  35. zuiweng Says:

    @Charles Liu (#20)
    “Many of us in the West don’t know about how China’s criminal justice system work.
    I’ll tackle the biggest mis-conception first (since this is fools mountain) – Lao Gai. It is actually based on “custodial detention”, a well-established western legal notion. US relied on it during WWII to justifiy detention of Japanese-Americans, and many American youths/first timer today can elect for bootcamp (a type of reform-thru-labor) instead of jail. Today europeans still have it on their book, and magistrates/prosecutors can hold suspects and witness months at a time. And I don’t think I need to mention Guantanamo Bay.”

    Seems to me that some don’t know neither how Western or Chinese criminal justice systems work…

    For starters: Neither laogai nor laojiao are *based* on (in the sense of being consciously modelled after) “custodial detention” as practiced by the US in WWII. Immediate precursors are similar forms of administrative detention in the Soviet Union. Early Chinese experiences with a system of “reform through labor” are documented for the Liberated Areas around Jingangshan starting 1932, the so-called “laodong ganhua yuan” 劳动干化院.

    There is no such thing as administrative detention or custodial detention in the sense of either laogai or laojiao as practised in the PRC in the “European book” ( a senseless term as all European nations have their own national judiciary systems) and the notion that magistrates/prosecutors here can hold suspects or witnesses for month at a time imprisoned at their whim is ludicrous. Detention pending trial is practised in the case of serious crimes and if there is a risk of collusion or of the suspect absconding. This kind of detention is of course subject to reviews. No *reform* of any kind is forced on the detainee, as at that point he/she is not yet adjudicated. Rehabilitatory / reformatory measures are part of prison sentences in most European nations, but if you seriously think that this is similar to the laogai/laojiao system as practiced during the last half century in China, you have another think coming.

    And no, you don’t have to mention Guantanamo Bay, thank you very much, the oft-maligned Western media have kept this source of shame for all thinking and feeling Americans on the front pages since its establishment. Where is the outraged Chinese media coverage over conditions in the labor camps and detention centers of China? Hmm, probably everything running along just fine there…

    Finally: For a closer look at the precursors of today’s system of criminal justice in China, there is an interesting monograph on the subject by Frank Dikötter: Crime, Punishment and the Prison in Modern China.- Columbia UP, 2002.

  36. zuiweng Says:


    – It should read 劳动感化院, of course. The concept of “ganhua” could be described as “moral reformation by an emotional appeal to the feelings of a criminal”.

  37. Buxi Says:


    I absolutely agree with the idea of an open and free trial for Yang Jia. It would (hopefully) mean justice in this case, and it would be very educational for everyone. I also agree with those who think Yang Jia needs a new lawyer; the current court-appointed one is not at all professional. He has said to the media that Yang Jia is very coherent/clear-minded, understands the legal consequences of what he did, and will most likely be sentenced to the death sentence.

    It doesn’t matter if that’s true (probably is)… but is this guy the prosecutor, or is he defending Yang Jia?

    Does anyone know if China is experimenting with broadcasting a trial on the Internet? It would seem to make a lot of sense for China’s “current conditions”.

  38. Charles Liu Says:

    Zuiweng, the complete title of the book you cited is “Crime, Punishment, and the Prison in Modern China, 1895-1949”.

  39. Charles Liu Says:

    The concept of custodial detention (and reformation that’s usually associated with it) has its origin in the West:


  40. zuiweng Says:


    Exactly. I found it provides an interesting take on a crucial period in the development of the modern Chinese prison system, i.e. Late Qing / Republican period, based on a lot of primary sources. Many readers will notice the shadow of Foucault and his work on imprisonment looming in the background, but it stands very well on its own. I hope you didn’t get the impression that it’s about post-Liberation criminal justice.

  41. Charles Liu Says:

    BTW, I checked Baidu for your “probably everything running along just fine there” claim – instead I found many criticisms of LaoGai/LoaJiao, as well as improvements made:


  42. Charles Liu Says:

    Lastly, Zuiweng, custodial detention was the rationale employed by the US government:


  43. MutantJedi Says:

    His defense said what?
    There has been some reform regarding defense lawyers… but still… it seems to be a bit of a risky job.

    What will the defense case be? When will the trail be? How accessible will the trail be to the public?

    Within the context of the Chinese court, what bearing does Yang Jia’s frame of mind, past treatment, basically his side of the story have on his case? Does insanity have any recognition in the Chinese courts?

  44. 12356 Says:

    Jia Yang met with lawyers at the time why do not recognize the fact that the murder

    Jia Yang’s lawyer in Shanghai Zhabei District People’s Government’s legal adviser

    Jia Yang Why deny murder, only to outside lawyers to recognize arson and 21 knives were seized Floor

    More than 10 minutes, five floors thorn in 10


  45. zuiweng Says:

    @Charles Liu (#39 + 41)

    – “custodial detention” in the sense defined by the article you linked to is not the same thing as the practice of laogai / laojiao (i.e. the practice of criminal justice in the PRC), that is to say, it is not a kind of administrative detention, which allows organs of branches of the executive to bypass a judicial process / review. Plus, your insinuation that laogai, as instituted after Liberation in China, was in any significant way connected to American precedent is nowhere borne out. You chose to ignore the precedent of a system of administrative detention in the Soviet Union as well as the evidence of early forms of reform through labor in the Liberated Areas.

    – I never said that there is no debate on laogai / the prison system in China (I can google/baidu as well). The need for implementing a better working system of criminal justice is no secret/taboo and the last major reform of the laogai system in 1994 has not put an end to this need. If you are satisfied that this random selection of internet discussions (here today, deleted tomorrow) is the equivalent of freedom of speech and association and the freedom to agitate for a change of unjust laws, well…

    – the idea of reforming criminals instead of just locking them away or executing them is a major theme of prison reform movements in modern times. Dikötter’s book shows how this idea has been applied to model institutions of Late Qing and Republican China. Dikötter characterizes the reform as both “radically new and remarkably traditional” and refutes the idea that China simply imitated the West. The ideology of “reform through labor” has been a cornerstone of the PRC penal system for almost fifty years and it has a wider resonance in Chinese culture than you seem to imply when you cite the abstract concept of “custodial detention”.

  46. Charles Liu Says:


    – Harry Wu of Laogai foundation, an expert on Laogai, refers to RTL as custodial detention/sentence:


    – laogai sentence can be appealed/reviewed. This was reported couple years ago when a HK legislator was caught in a mainland brothel.

    – Laogai emerged after the Qing/republican system was abolished.

  47. zuiweng Says:

    @Charle Liu

    – thank you for the link which rather seems to strengthen the case for viewing laogai as an instrument of state-terror and not a system of justice.
    – if by appeal /review you mean that authorities are at liberty to prolong the incarceration of non-compliant detainees, you have proven your point (again, really nice link)
    – “laogai” as a penal system was introduced after Liberation, but the idea and practice of trying to reform /rehabilitate criminals has a much longer history (in the West, as well as in China, as documented by Dikötter). Laogai.org does a good job describing the changes the laogai system underwent in the PRC (once again, what a nice link)

  48. Buxi Says:



    I’m afraid that your English writing is a little unclear. If you could write a brief summary of what you’re saying to say in Chinese, our volunteers would be happy to help you explain what you really mean, and possibly even help you improve your English draft.

  49. FOARP Says:

    @Chops – The only place I have ever seen coppers with guns is Heathrow airport and outside the Houses of Parliament. As far as I am concerned, this man deserves to receive the full weight of the law if found guilty.

  50. Chops Says:

    It would’nt be surprising if Yang gets the capital punishment, but previously some Chinese officials got the death sentence just for corruption, a non-violent crime.

    I don’t agree with some human-rights groups on abolishing the death sentence, like in Europe, but this penalty should only be handed out for cases where the victims died or were critically injured.

    CHINA’S supreme court overturned 15 per cent of all death sentences handed down by lower courts in the first half of 2008, their state media reported.

  51. yo Says:

    @B. Smith #25
    I agree with you 100%. As I said earlier, i want my cops with guns.

    I would describe myself as a liberal…or perhaps center left, but you make me sound like a card carrying member of the NRA 🙂 But that’s not a bad thing, I like the fact you get to discuss topics with other people with different perspectives on this blog, definitely an eye opening experience.

  52. Dan po Says:

    In Bruce Springsteen song, a mother taught her child to always be polite to New York cop, as they have a reputation of shooting first and asking question later.In this particular song Bruce narrated the true incident of a black man shot 41 times because he happened to pull a wallet from his pocket without being told by the police.

  53. S.K. Cheung Says:

    This guy was clearly nuts. But it will be interesting to see if he is determined medically nuts, and more importantly, legally nuts. My understanding in US jurisdictions with capital punishment, is that cop-killing qualifies you for it, but doesn’t necessarily condemn you to it (after being proven guilty, of course).
    So if this guy is legally nuts, it will be a test -case of China’s legal system in 2008 to see if he gets death were he to be convicted.
    Is the insanity defense even allowed/recognized in China?
    I didn’t realize police don’t carry guns in China. I’m pro-gun control, but law enforcement should have them. Which is why I’m equally confused about the bobbies in Britain.

  54. Buxi Says:

    I don’t know the specifics of the law as it is today… but my parents told me insanity was a recognized defense at least back during the Cultural Revolution. A worker at my father’s factory killed and literally butchered his wife… but returned back to work 4-5 years later. Of course, in those days there was no legal system per se, just the Party making a judgment on the issue.

    But I have to say, I don’t think this guy was nuts. He’s already denying the murders, claiming to his court-appointed attorney that he “found” the knife on the 21st floor.

  55. fall Says:

    Chinese cops have a very bad reputation for corruption for years and the Chinese society has long been run under so called “sub-regulation”. For instance, nowadays there are numerous brothels open for business in the name of “beauty salon” or “bath center” in Shanghai as well as any cities in China. Prostitution is illegal according to the current Chiese law so apprently such activities under daylight must have been protected by certain power and force. What is that? It has almost become common sense today that a boss of a“beauty salon” has to pay fees to the local police station for protection otherwise his business is impossible. This is just one of the “sub-regulations”. And police’s beating suspects is also such an often practised“sub-regulation” well know by all ordinary Chinese people. So it is not strange that when Yang Jia’s case of attacking the police happened, there were not many people show sympathy to the victims even though the murder was so outrageous. Things go just as a Chinese saying: one would suffer who seeds the hatred.

  56. S.K. Cheung Says:

    Well, it goes back to getting the facts, and airing them in an open and transparent fashion. Did he kill these 4 cops because of his rage against cops in general, or was he targeting these 4 specific individuals for some reason. Spur of the moment is one thing (still wrong of course), but specific targeting would be another, as that suggests premeditation.

    I agree that there should be a high bar for an insanity defense. At the same time, if he is truly medically/legally insane, and wasn’t aware of the consequences of his actions, that should be a legitimate defense.

    Sounds like police corruption, much like government corruption, will be another in the list of issues that China needs to address as her society “progresses”.

  57. Buxi Says:


    If the police have a bad reputation, then they need to improve their reputation. It is brain-less to think that it is justification for this kind of murder.

    I don’t know what your career is, but many professions have a bad reputation in China right now. Doctors have a “bad reputation” for demanding money and not healing patients; businessman pay bribes and keep second wives; real estate developers get rich without considering the poor who need homes…

    Is it okay now for the relatives of a sick patient to kill 6 random doctors? For an unhappy wife to kill 6 random wealthy businessmen? For someone who can’t afford a home to kill six random real estate developers? That’s not the kind of China I want to see.

    There is no defense for Yang Jia. There might be Shanghai police who should also be punished, but Yang Jia is an animal that took away six husbands, six sons, six fathers.

  58. no murder Says:

    this six minute recording can be faked, especially in shanghai.

  59. no murder Says:

    if this whole thing of convicting this Yang Jia into a murderer to save the image of shanghai police and maybe the coming Expo, it saids alot about why chinese want devide and not be together.

  60. Buxi Says:

    Just as a follow-up, China Media Project has great translations of follow-up editorials on the case:


  61. Buxi Says:

    @no murder,

    I don’t know if the recording can be faked, but its definitely suspicious we have only heard a few minutes of it. And I think that Yang Jia needs an open and fair trial, with good lawyers that he selects.

    But do you *really* doubt that Yang Jia killed those police officers? Do you really doubt that he’s a murderer?

    Yang Jia might have been a victim of the Shanghai police, before. If that’s the case, I hope we find out more details about that, and I hope the police who are involved are punished. But none of that is legal justification for killing six people.

  62. no murder Says:

    Yang Jia is doomed.
    Although on the surface the media seem to play a game that there is a regional conflict between Shanghai and Beijing, we all know it is in both shanghai and the Beijing’s interest to sentence him to death as a murderer.

  63. MutantJedi Says:

    Do we really doubt that Yang Jia killed the police officers? hmm… In a Western justice sense we can’t know. In fact, if a reporter doesn’t use terms like “alleged” and “accused” when talking about someone before his trial, he can get into some pretty hot water.

    In a system where the confession seems to determine guilt and the trial seems to be more for sentencing, then you can use terms like “no doubt”.

    But I certainly hope that the principle of presumption of innocence is part of the legal reforms in China. As messy and disturbing as that principle may seem at times, it is something that you would want to have if you ever find yourself before a judge. The failure of the judicial system isn’t when the bad guy gets away with a crime but when the innocent get nailed with it.

    Do we know Yang Jia did it? If we value the presumption of innocence, then we don’t know. Even with a confession, we don’t know. In a system that relies heavily on confession, we can’t really give much weight to them. We can’t pronounce sentencing on him until that protection of innocence is removed. It needs to be removed by a trial.

    China needs Yang Jia to have an open trial. Not for Yang Jia’s sake, but for the sake of anyone else who is accused of a crime they didn’t do. The guilty man going to jail for something he did is good. The innocent man not going to jail for something he did not do is even better.

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  1. “China feels very turbulent” - Part 2 | Fool's Mountain: Blogging for China
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